In defense of a Democratic District Attorney

I voted for Mike Anderson. It pained me, and my father threatened to stop talking to me because of it, but I could not bear the thought of someone like Lloyd Wayne Oliver becoming DA, even more than I could not bear the thought of someone like Anderson becoming DA.

I expected most of my (Democratic/Liberal) friends & colleagues to come to a similar decision, albeit as painfully as I did. However, while most did, in fact, vote for the Republican candidate, the rationale was absolutely appalling. Far too many of my contemporaries, who otherwise vote liberally, have been duped into this folly of believing a District Attorney is about exacting punishment and revenge, and therefore it is perfect for the GOP. The DA is not about punishment, it is about equity and fairness.

In England, there once existed an institution named the Court of Chancery. Its main purpose was to be an equitable companion to the aloofness and harshness of Common Law. While the Court of Chancery did not, per se, deal with much of the same material as a  District Attorney would deal with, the concept was still, in my opinion, pretty much the same.

Great Britain, once upon a time used these equitable remedies to straighten out the de facto injustices caused by their legal system, both in criminal and civil cases. Today, in the United States, we have things like punitive damages and (with the exception of moron Texas) no loser-pay laws in litigation, meaning the courthouse doors are open to everyone. Finally, we have the modern District Attorney.

Again, I am familiar with the history of the law, and know that the District Attorney, in its modern day prosecutorial role, is not intended to be an equitable figure, but that is what has occurred. I realize, in many ways, the prime function of the DA is to persuade juries to the side of the State, but that does not mean the DA is a figure of the vigilante mobs, elected on promises of exacting retaliation “for the victims” or “for justice“. Rather, like just about everything else in our common law system, the position is about the accused, and not the attacked.

The District Attorney, in its modern embodiment, is invaluable in cuing plea deals, and deciding exactly which course of action to take on a case. Thus, the idea of “prosecutorial discretion.” For example, even though a [first time] DWI is considered a Class B Misdemeanor in Texas, and the punishment is 180 days in jail, many defendants can get off without doing any jail time, and some can even see their records expunged after the completion of a pseudo-probationary program (the DIVERT program, a creation of Ms. Lykos).

The DA, in this capacity, is the arbiter of equity. The law is cold, black & white, and aloof. But the DA, who is human, should be warm, grey, and involved. If extenuating circumstances are involved, the penalty will often be mitigated. This is why a lunatic who murders a police officer, and a woman who strangles her abusive husband in his sleep, are not charged with the same crime, even though it may seem the law would warrant such action. It is the same reason Jean Valjean’s petty larceny does not warrant the same penalty as post-Hurricane electronic store looters.

Therefore, my heart cries when I find my otherwise-liberal friends talking about how they want a “hard on crime”, “law & order” DA, but will stick with Democratic Judges. In fact, it is this type of cross-ticket voting that kept Bradford out of the office to begin with. The DA is not, and most definitely should not, be a bully pulpit for modern day public punishment. It should be the keepers of equity in an otherwise inequitable system. One in which first time offenders may be channeled into probationary programs instead of being locked up like hardened criminals, in which drug addicts may be treated for their disease, rather than punished for their infraction.

Politicians should be the true retaliatory figures, and the true “law and order” types. For they are the ones who write the laws. If the public truly wishes for blood, than the legislatures would be the ones to stiffen the penalties. As the keepers of the grey in a black & white world, the DA should not be seen as the inquisitor.

Yes, I voted for Anderson, but if given another option, I wouldn’t have. For the DA is not about punishment, it is about protection.

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3 thoughts on “In defense of a Democratic District Attorney

  1. Pingback: Get well soon, Mike Anderson | Texpatriate

  2. Pingback: Texpatriate | Democrats battle incompetence in race for DA

  3. Pingback: Texpatriate | Civil Affairs: Plea deals

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